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Prosecutors try to link alleged bribes of Sen. Bob Menendez to appointment of federal prosecutor

NEW YORK — Prosecutors during the trial of Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday used the testimony of his former campaign manager to try to tie alleged bribes from the Democrat to the appointment of New Jersey’s top prosecutor three years ago.

Michael Soliman, a former political adviser to Menendez, testified immediately after New Jersey U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger spent two days on the witness stand during the trial in federal court in Manhattan, which is in its sixth week.

Menendez, 70, and two New Jersey businessmen are on trial on charges that the senator accepted gold bars, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a luxury car from businessmen between 2018 and 2022 in exchange for their help with their business dealings, including through trying to interfere with lawsuits.

They have pleaded not guilty. A third businessman pleaded guilty and testified against them. Menendez’s wife has also pleaded not guilty in the case, although her trial was postponed after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Sellinger testified last week that Menendez told him that if he recommended appointing him as New Jersey’s top federal prosecutor, he hoped he would review a criminal case against Fred Dabies, a prominent New Jersey real estate developer, because he believed he “ was treated unfairly.”

Sellinger said he told Menendez the next day that he would have to notify the Justice Department that he might have to be dismissed from the Dabies case because he had worked in his private practice on a lawsuit that went against Dabies used to be.

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Menendez then recommended someone else for the job, and Soliman testified Tuesday that he was told by a top aide to Menendez in December 2020 that the senator and Sellinger had “had a falling out.”

Soliman said that after the nomination of the new nominee fell through following a series of negative news articles about her, Sellinger told him he wanted the senator to know that he had contacted the Justice Department and learned that “the issue” he thought that he would have needed his refusal, after all, he did not do so.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal asked Soliman if there was any confusion expressed by Menendez about what “the issue” was when he relayed the conversation to the senator.

“No,” Soliman said.

Soliman, who said he did not know what “the problem” Sellinger was referring to, also said Menendez did not ask questions about the message Sellinger relayed.

Sellinger, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, was sworn in as U.S. attorney in December 2021 and has served in the position since.

Sellinger, who testified last week, recalled his conversation with Soliman differently, claiming that he told Soliman exactly what he told the senator: that he expected to be excluded from the Daibes case because of the civil case he was involved in worked and which was to the disadvantage of Daibes. .

Sellinger said he called Menendez in the spring of 2022 to invite him to speak at a public ceremony honoring Sellinger’s appointment as U.S. attorney.

“He said, ‘I’m going to pass,’” Sellinger recalled.

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Sellinger said the senator then said, “The only thing worse than not having a relationship with the U.S. attorney is people thinking you have a relationship with the U.S. attorney and you don’t.”

Sellinger testified under cross-examination last week and Tuesday in a manner favorable to the senator, saying, among other things, that he never believed Menendez had asked him to do anything inappropriate or unethical.

Buoyed by Sellinger’s testimony on cross-examination, Menendez left the courthouse Tuesday appearing optimistic. Just before getting into his car, he said, “Sellinger has made it very clear. He was asked not to do anything wrong. And he didn’t.”

Dabies, who is on trial before Menendez, contracted COVID last week, forcing a three-day delay in a trial now expected to last until July. After Wednesday’s holiday, the trial will resume on Thursday.

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